By LANCE GAY
Scripps Howard News Service
September 23, 2005
In an information bulletin marked "for official use only," the Department of Homeland Security warns that terrorists might be plotting to turn kitchen pressure cookers into homemade bombs. The three-page memo alerts border security guards to be on the watch for people trying to smuggle pressure cookers into the United States.
The memo was obtained by military analyst William Arkin. A year ago, the government published a secret report on how terrorists might exploit a hurricane.
Expect Congress to approve oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in a budget package that Republicans are assembling. The vote is to come after Congress returns from its Columbus Day holiday next month.
Anti-gambling advocates are bitterly condemning Bush administration plans to give a bailout to owners of riverboat casinos devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
The White House says it's including payments to rebuild the riverboat casinos as part of its economic package for the Gulf Coast.
Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., who once served on an anti-gambling commission, says the casinos make enough profits that they don't need a subsidy. He urged President Bush to exclude gambling parlors from getting federal assistance. "This special-interest incentive would be a disgrace," Wolf said, contending federal aid is needed to help the poor and homeless.
Here's one explanation for the government's ham-fisted efforts to help New Orleans: Of the 176 exercises FEMA conducted to test its disaster readiness from July 1, 2004, until this month, only one involved responding to a hurricane. Most exercises involved handling a radioactive bomb, a biological weapon or an explosion caused by terrorists.
The militia groups alarmed about government deployment of the U.S. military for domestic activities won't be happy, but Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner, R-Va., says he wants a top-to-bottom review of whether the 130-year-old Posse Comitatus Act is getting in the way of the Pentagon lending a hand dealing with Katrina-like disasters.
The much-cited 1878 law prohibits the military from involvement in domestic policing activities. But as Bush demonstrated during Katrina, there's a big escape clause in the law if the president declares an emergency where troops are needed.
More lawmakers are saying they made a mistake by expanding from $15,000 to $250,000 the amount that federal employees can spend without approval from superiors. The limit was raised in legislation aimed at speeding aid to devastated Gulf Coast regions.
The Office of Management and Budget insisted that only a few federal employees are going to get the new $250,000-limit credit card, and ordered federal agencies to audit all the spending on those. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California said a group of Democrats has asked the Government Accountability Office to assign auditors to closely monitor the spending as well.
Environmentalists are already screaming, but odds are improving that Congress will rewrite the Endangered Species Act.
Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., one of the most liberal supporters of the 1973 law, broke with environmentalists who wanted to block any changes and says he's willing to work out a new approach with Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif. This has sent the Sierra Club and other groups into a tizzy because Pombo is a rancher who has fought environmentalists on many other bills.
The Endangered Species Act doesn't have a good track record: Only 23 of the 1,300 species it protects are increasing in population, and nine protected species have gone extinct.
Distributed to subscribers by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com
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